Academic journal article Child Welfare

Finnish Children in Foster Care: Evaluating the Breakdown of Long-Term Placements

Academic journal article Child Welfare

Finnish Children in Foster Care: Evaluating the Breakdown of Long-Term Placements

Article excerpt

Save the Children studied risk factors associated with placement disruption or breakdown in cases where long-term foster care was intended. Before their placement in 180 foster families, most of the 234 children studied (75%) had experienced neglect. The followup time after initial placement averaged four years and two months. Achieving long-term beneficial foster care placement of children of varied ages and experiences with abuse and neglect, involved considering the needs of the foster parents who may or may not have their own children or other children in their care. Some children were reunified with their parents; careful evaluation is needed before such reunion.

Reasons for a child entering foster care changed dramatic ally in Finland during the last century. Even a half cent ry ago, the most common reasons for entering foster care were either parental death or abandonment of the child. Today, children typically need foster care because of child neglect and maltreatment resulting from parental alcohol abuse and mental health problems (Muuri, 1993). Only 1 % of the population of children in Finland under age 18 grow up in foster care. Of these children, approximately 48% are in family foster care, 40% are in institutional care, and 12% are in new types of family-like professional care.

The optimal length of time for children to benefit from foster care is controversial. Some researchers (e.g., Triseliotis, 1991) emphasize the importance of permanency, while others (e.g., Milner, 1987) address the problems related to overstay in foster care. The goal of foster care is to provide a service that helps to reunify children and parents as soon as possible or to provide safe, nurturing foster families with whom children can grow up if their parents are incapable of taking care of them.

Finnish law differentiates between these goals. Initially, atrisk families receive a range of services with a system of "open care." These services include family counseling, financial support, help with housekeeping, special day care, and/or temporary placement of their children in foster care. When these efforts are insufficient or unsuccessful, then long-term family foster care is considered. This service can be provided until the youth reaches age 18, with aftercare services offered to age 21. Even in longterm cases, however, reunification can take place if the parents' situations change for the better.

Long-term foster care does, of course, have risks; the children's care may not be with one family because of disruption. Previous research has identified a number of indicators of breakdown in both foster care and adoption. Commonly, the consensus is that the older the child is when adopted and the more severe the history of the maltreatment, the higher the risk of maladjustment. Siblings placed together seem to experience fewer breakdowns (Triseliotis, 1991). Placing young children with families who have birth children also carries a risk for placement permanency (Zwimpfer, 1983). Experienced parents, however, may be more successful with older or more disturbed children (Borland, 1991). A lower dropout rate for foster parents has been associated with extra training and stipends (Chamberlain, Moreland, & Reid, 1992), as well as with the degree of contact and rapport with the caseworker (Stone & Stone, 1983).

Study Background and Methodology

The present study's goal was to identify risk factors associated with placement disruption or breakdown in cases where longterm family foster care was intended. This study was conducted by Save the Children, Finland, which has a more direct involvement in foster care and adoption issues than its sister organizations in other countries. Save the Children's social workers use the PRIDE program to recruit, assess, and train prospective foster parents.* The social workers also provide supports and services after placement, including regular visits and help with the contact between the child, birthparents, and foster family. …

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